CLEVELAND -- J.C. Mejía has picked up one win this season since making his Major League debut in May, but he’s still searching for his first one since joining Cleveland’s rotation.
Mejia started off strong for the Indians, owning a 0.00 ERA through his first three big league appearances working out of the bullpen. That trend even carried into his first start, when injuries plagued the rotation and he was forced to be thrown into the mix. Yet since he has become a starter, he has gone 0-6, including the Indians’ 8-2 loss to the Rays on Saturday night at Progressive Field.
“He competed well,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “You’re talking about getting into the seventh inning, and we’re down by two runs with not much offense that we created. We look back, he competed well, and I thought he gave us a chance to kind of stay in the game and come back. When you look at that and some of his numbers, I thought he threw the ball pretty well.”
The Indians needed length. Since the team has had injuries plague its rotation, deep starts have been hard to come by, and the bullpen has started to show some wear and tear after picking up some extra frames. And Mejia accomplished mission No. 1 by getting into the seventh, even if he didn’t record an out in that frame. It marked the first time the club received three consecutive six-inning outings from its starters since May 7-11 (Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Shane Bieber).
Mejia has shown flashes of excitement with his stuff, as recently as last Monday in Houston when he recorded a career-high eight strikeouts. But he has also had nights like Saturday, when he was charged with five runs on seven hits (three homers) with two walks and six strikeouts in six-plus frames. His spin rate was down from his season average on each of his pitches, and his velocity was down nearly a full mph on each of his offerings except his changeup.
“I got to give them credit this time,” Mejia said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I was able to execute pitches I wanted to throw. Unfortunately, they did a good job and were able to connect.”
Regardless of the outcome, each time he has toed the rubber, he has given Cleveland something positive to take away.
“There’s a competitive spirit,” Hale said. “You can see his determination. One of the things that I’ve kind of noticed over the last few starts is he’s starting to incorporate a breaking ball -- a curveball -- which I think helps guys stay off the power fastball and the slider and the sinker. It’s a little bit slower velocity, it gives a different kind of depth top to bottom, so when you look at that, the young man is evolving.”
Since joining the rotation, Mejia has pitched to a 8.58 ERA (34 earned runs, 35 2/3 innings). He has been excellent against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .210 average, but lefties have hit .316 against him. And in five of his last six outings, he has allowed at least four runs. He has experienced plenty of peaks and even more valleys. His next step will be attempting to find more consistency on the big league stage.
“I think the biggest difference [since his debut] has been [learning] the importance of executing every single pitch,” Mejia said, “and how that helps my team get more innings and have better games.”
And while Mejia continues to search for his first win as a big league starter, Cleveland has found itself back at .500 (48-48) for the first time since its ninth consecutive loss on June 7 at Tampa Bay.
“There’s been some growing pains, but also, I think there has been some things that he’s adjusted and done pretty well at,” Hale said. “He can have some tough innings, but it seems like he bounces back when you send him out there. Those are the things that I’ve seen in him evolving into a Major League pitcher and helping us perform and compete at this level.”